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Ride the Root River Trail Through Southeast Minnesota

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Pedal through Minnesota's Bluff Country on the scenic Root River State Trail

Ride the Root River Trail Through Southeast Minnesota

The Root River State Trail in southeast Minnesota is a paved, 42-mile bike route through one of the state's most beautiful and unique landscapes: the Driftless Region. Whether you choose to start in Fountain, Harmony, Lanesboro, Houston, Peterson, Preston, Rushford or Whalan, you’re destined to have a good time.

Biking on the Root River State Trail

Pedal beneath soaring limestone bluffs on the Root River State Trail / Root River Trail Towns

The Driftless Region: No Glaciers, No Problems

One of the few parts of Midwest passed-over by glaciers during the ice age, the Driftless Region feels like a completely different place than the rest of Minnesota. Unlike the relatively flat plains and forests that define most of Minnesota's topography, the Driftless Region is defined by its prominent, limestone bluffs, and the rivers rushing through their valleys.

But fear not, Root River Trail riders: although the Driftless Region is one of Minnesota's hilliest areas, the trail itself traverses a former railroad line and is mostly flat. Rather than suffering your way uphill, trail riders get to enjoy a gentle ride beneath the bluffs.

Bikers cross bridge on Root River Trail

Pedal through Preston while riding the Root River Trail in southeast Minnesota

Attractions Along the Trail

Begin or end your course in Fountain, where you can view a sinkhole approximately half a mile out from the trailhead. There is even a bridge you can walk on that overlooks the vast opening.

After biking a bit, take a nice refreshing pit stop in Preston. Here you’ll find a unique chance to cool down in some natural air conditioning. Take a journey down into the impressive Mystery Cave, which is a steady temperature of 48 degrees year round. Here you will learn about the rich history behind the cave, as well as get an up-close look at some breathtaking cave formations, and even come face to face with some fossils.

Continue your way along the trail to historic Lanesboro, where you will discover a slower pace of life. Lanesboro has been voted one of "America’s Prettiest Towns" by Yahoo. This scenic beauty and small town charm is not something you want to miss. Lanesboro is also home to a vibrant local art scene and a variety of charming, independent bed & breakfasts, making it an ideal home base for a multi-day trek. 

Woman looking at painting at Art in the Park

Art in the Park in Lanesboro / Bluff Country Photography

As you continue along the trail’s windy path, you will soon find yourself in the town of Peterson as you intersect with the main street in town. Peterson is a town filled with Norwegian culture. Make a stop at the Peterson Station Museum, including the original train depot with many of the depot’s original furnishings.

Venturing on further you’ll pass through the town of Rushford, another not-to-miss destination. The trail runs adjacent to the town’s historical depot, housing not only a museum but an indoor rest area for travelers as well. The trailhead is within walking distance of many attractions, such as restaurants, lodging, shops and even a lefse factory.

The city of Houston is the last stop along the Root River Trail. Houston is a great place to enjoy numerous outdoor activities. The trailhead has an 18-acre park to explore and enjoy. Why not stay a while and checkout the International Owl Center? The center’s mission is to advance the survival of wild owls through education and research.

Regardless of where you choose to begin or what direction you decide to go, the Root River Trail offers a ride to remember. Rich in history and fun, it’s an adventure worth taking.

Written by Sofia Rappa